Making a dent in 'deadbeat' dads

Monday, February 6, 2006

What about 'deadbeat moms,' man asks

The term "deadbeat" brings anger for many. Images of split families, perhaps a situation of child poverty, and a parent who can't - or won't - live up to his or her responsibility.

There are a myriad of reasons why people may fail to make their scheduled payments, but one thing is certain - changing state policies and procedures are making a stronger effort to make sure the non-custodial parent still helps support their children.

Joan Spooner, director of the local charity agency Upper Des Moines, sees the impact on families in poverty when a parent skips child support payments.

The good news is that it's happening less often. "In my personal opinion it is less of a problem than it is used to be in Buena Vista County," Spooner said. Child Support Recovery programs from the Department of Human Resources have made a major difference in people getting some child support.

Laws and statistics do not always show how deeply deadbeats may impact the family life. Some are forced to rely on government and charity resources to make ends meet while others are tied up in court battles.

"It was hard for my mother to make ends meet at times, she was always struggling to make ends meet when there was no help from my father," explained one Storm Lake woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as she is still involved in a court case against her father. "My father would never send money over until we started to take him to court."

"Many people just assume that deadbeat is referring to a dad but nowdays some women are becoming deadbeat moms," Dan, who is dealing with a deadbeat mother, explained in a phone interview. "When I tell people that I have to deal with a deadbeat mother they just look at me in disbelief."

There is a growing list of cases requiring child support payments in Iowa. According to Iowa DHS, the caseloads of court ordered child support has grown from 157,000 in SFY 1998 to 187,000 in SFY 2005.

The DHS also states that Iowa has collected $307.7 million in back child support payments. According to Roger Munns of the Iowa Department of Human Services in Des Moines, about 85% percent of that money collected goes to the family support and the rest goes to paying back taxpayers.

"For every $1 of taxpayer's money used for collecting child support, the state collects $5.58," Munns claimed. To the DHS falls the job figuring out how much the non-custodial parent owes and finding a way to collect payment.

Over 631,000 parents and children are involved with the 187,000 active cases dealing the courts and collection of child support. According to the DHS, 14 percent are currently receiving public assistance benefits. Some 57 percent formerly received benefits, and 29 percent never relieved public assistance.

Due to widespread locations of parents, there is not an effective way to track how many cases of child support are going through the courts on the county level.

"People look at numbers and just shrug them off," said Joanne Swason of Cherokee. "I'm not just a number and there are people around us that collect child support that you might not even realize it. I'm tired of stigma that goes with people that are recognized for collecting child support."

"With my father not helping with paying his part of the support, my mother had to work all the time and not allow much time for family time," the female source said. "He was a cheapskate and ruined part of my childhood because he didn't want to pay for new school supplies or new clothes."

"I have troubles with getting my child support with my daughter's father not in the state," said Megan Sherman, a woman dealing a father she said is not making child support payments. "I am currently searching for him through a deadbeat parent web site trying to track him down. It is hard to make ends meet but I know I can make it and my daughter will too."

Iowa has created new ways for payments to be collected. In December 2003, Iowa required that almost all payments be done electronically. Iowa also helps collect child support across state lines. Working with both Nebraska and Illinois, they process cases together.

"We hope that (non-custodial parents) want to be more then just a check," Munns said.

"There might be easier ways to pay child support, but I had to fight in the courts to get my ex-wife to pay up what she owed," Dan said. "I still haven't been paid back the full amount and it's like she doesn't care and courts just seem to disbelieve at times but what can you really do. I just try to provide the best I can for my son."

Iowa has opened many different programs and a web site to help men realize what it means to be a dad. The different services show the importance of not only being financially available for children but also how to be there for emotional support.

After hearing about the web sites about being there for his child, Dan was curious why there wasn't a site for deadbeat mom. "Just recently some people started to accept the idea of a deadbeat mom but it seems like the courts are having trouble with understanding that one," Dan said. "I am there for my son and he knows it."

Studies shown for legislative purposes prove that out-of-wedlock births are declining. But child support still needs to be collected and the DHS plans to push new legislation that will promote addition enforcement for collecting child support.

"You know the government should worry about putting more effort into enforcing the laws they have and not create new ones," Dan said. "We also need to make sure the laws are not targeting any certain gender, if we allow laws to be sexist like some courts have then men will have legal troubles down the line when we have to fight for our children."

"There will always be those who will avoid paying and then we have to go back to the courts," Munns said about the last resort to collecting child support.

"My son's father wasn't paying at first and it was a real strain for me to be able to afford everything needed like school supplies and food," Swason reflects. But as soon as she received help from the courts, everything worked out better. "I don't regret having my son, he is the best in the world."

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